Minutes before my slide, I’m sitting in a room at the top of the bobsled track, watching an educational video about keeping my arms inside the sled and how to tighten my helmet. The video is surprisingly short and basic, as is the electronic waiver I’m required to sign before I slip inside the sled. I grab a helmet that looks similar to those worn by BMX riders in the X Games, and tug the red, white, and black protective shield onto my head.
Outside, looking at the track, I can’t see much except the first steeply banking curve. After that, the track quickly bends downhill and out of sight. I can feel my heart rate increase and my mouth go dry. I wonder, for just a second, if I really need this Olympic moment.
But the period of hesitation passes, and I’m assigned to a sled with two teenage boys. Our pilot, introduced to us just minutes before hopping in the sled, is Nick, a twentysomething guy from northern Minnesota who looks more like a terrain-park junkie than the well-built Olympic bobsledder I’d been expecting.
I’d been looking forward to the start of the run; I wanted to experience the swift entry into the sled. I find out, though, that there’s no kissing a lucky egg, á la Cool Runnings; no “Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s bobsled time!” We don’t get that moment of glory where we push the sled forward, our thighs burning with effort, as we hop in one at a time. Instead, we maneuver slowly into the stationary sled—first the fourth rider, at the back, and then the third, the pilot, and lastly me, the second rider.
Three members of the track crew surround the sled, manning their positions to push us forward. I form a death grip around the wrist straps attached to the inner sides of the sled and stick my legs straight out in front of me, on each side of Nick. “Be careful not to squeeze your legs together,” a member of the ride staff tells me. “You’ll distract the driver.”
Suddenly we’re moving—and headed toward a blind turn. Everything but Nick’s blue helmet goes out of focus. I can feel all the bumps in the track as the wheels careen over them. I sense our speed increasing as I hold my arms steady. My cheeks quiver from the momentum. I clench my teeth. Without warning, I feel the sled moving up, my body shifting sideways. We’re flying around a curve. Then the sled levels out before shifting in the opposite direction. We zip around what I imagine is curve six, the most aggressive bend on the track, and all thoughts leave my head. I give in to the movement, to the exhilaration of speed.
For the next 60 seconds, I become someone else. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an adventure seeker who simply thought bobsledding would be fun to try. I’m an Olympic athlete, listening to chants of my name being carried on the wind as I scream toward the finish line.